The Simplicity That is in Christ

‘But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 11. 3

Simplicity in the gospel

One of the outstanding aspects of the gospel is its simplicity. To understand that salvation is simply a matter of acknowledging our need of Christ and looking to Him through faith alone to remove the penalty of sin and to make us citizens of Heaven is nothing short of amazing. Well can we sing the words of that enduring hymn, ‘Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!’ Indeed it is amazing grace and the heart that is fully occupied with the Lord Jesus and His gracious work toward us will never tire of singing those glorious strains. It truly is ‘love divine, all loves excelling’.  How grateful we are for our salvation and what a debt we owe!  His love has been shed abroad in our hearts so that it can be shed abroad from our hearts. It fills us with praise and adoration making us instant in season to proclaim the gospel to all around so that they too can enter into the same love and appreciation for the Saviour.

We do not rely on our own wisdom or elaborate explanation to win people to Christ, but strive to be like Paul who confessed to the Corinthians. ‘And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God, 1 Cor. 2. 1. False teachers had attempted to corrupt their thinking using strategies of philosophy and dialectics and so we should be on guard lest our thinking and preaching is also corrupted through reliance upon our own wisdom and strength. The gospel does not need to be propped up, nor does it need to rely upon our powers of persuasion or cleverly-packaged programming, but rather on the plain, unadulterated Word of God. We should preach with this in mind and leave the results with God.

Apostolic example

The apostles and other servants of the Lord did so; we should do the same. When the Apostle Paul travelled to Athens and stood on Mars Hill before an antagonistic crowd, Acts 17, he unabashedly presented the Person of the Christ and the exclusivity of the gospel as the only means of salvation. In the midst of rampant idolatry, he boldly proclaimed, ‘Him declare I unto you’, v. 23. It was a simple message that stood in contrast to the various religious and philosophical sophistries that resided atop the Areopagus and nearby vicinity. He did not map out a ‘seeker-sensitive’ strategy before he preached but instead, swung the gospel hammer and broke through stony hearts to the glory of God, Jer. 23. 29. We would do well to do the same.

Simplicity in worship

Not only is it important to emphasize the simplicity of the gospel in our preaching, but we should stress it in our worship as well. We should be like that leper in Luke chapter 17 who being healed of his dread disease, rushed back to thank the Lord for the miraculous work that God had done in his life. We too have been healed of the dreadful disease of sin and should return to give Him thanks regularly. The early disciples worshiped together on a weekly basis according to Acts 20 verse 7 and were occupied with but one Person-the Lord Jesus. Boldness was also a recognized result of being with Jesus and people will recognize that we too have been with Jesus as we witness for Him, Acts 4. 13. Moses face was radiant after being in the presence of the Lord (Ex. 34. 29) and we will be radiant as we spend time in the Lord’s presence.

Worship is not about performing, but rather about prostrating ourselves in the sacrifice of praise. When the Old Testament priests entered the Tabernacle to worship the Lord they saw themselves in the mirrors that made up the base of the brazen altar Exod. 38. 8. When we come to worship we cannot help but ‘see’ ourselves in the light of gospel truth-what we were and what we are now in Christ. Amazingly, we are what we are now despite of what we were then. Without reservation we can say, ‘We love Him, because He first loved us’.

Worship is always Christ centered

Not only do we love Him, but we look to Him because He is our Shepherd and we daily need His help and guidance. We also live for Him because we know that there are others who are watching our lives closely and could ask us at any time about the hope that lies within us, 1 Peter 3. 15. We love Him and look to Him and live for Him and therefore it makes perfect sense that our gatherings should emphasize Him and not allow anything to dilute or distract from that emphasis. There is nothing that thrills our souls more than when we set our affections and focus our attention on the Lord. We are not to be those that are taken up with religious trappings–ceremonies and rituals and traditions of man, but rather we are taken up with Christ. Like Simeon of old who upon entering the temple where the Lord Jesus was being presented as a little child, embraced Him and blessed Him proclaiming, ‘Mine eyes have seen thy salvation’ Luke 2. 25-35. Simeon’s actions underscore the truth that salvation and heart-felt worship is not centered in a place or in performance, but in a Person.

First experiences of Christian simplicity

When I first entered through the doors years ago where a company of Christians were meeting solely in the Lord’s Name and gathered to worship Him, one of the first things that stood out to me was the simplicity of the meeting. There were no stained glass windows, no relics, no icons, no special titles recognized, no priestly vestments worn by those who addressed the audience, no candles, and no religious or cryptic-looking symbols on the wall. In many respects it was a regular looking room. There was a verse on the wall however which read. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His begotten only Son…’ Coming from an unsaved background and not yet a believer, these words were easy to understand and together with the simplicity of the meeting became far less intimidating than I had supposed it would be when I first walked through the doors.

What was also unusual to me was that there were no offerings taken. I kept looking around to try to figure out who was in charge but no one appeared to be dressed differently or the leader above the rest. When the speaker got up to address the audience, he spoke in such a clear and simple way that I understood completely what he was saying, even though I knew nothing about the Bible. It was as though he was talking directly to me. As he spoke of Christ, tears trickled down his cheeks, though he remained calm and dignified. His voice did not quiver nor was there any histrionics in his manner. I had never heard nor seen such a thing in my religious life before and so it made quite an impression on me. No one cornered me as I left; but on the other hand, they did not have to since I was planning to return anyway. Like John Wesley, my heart was also ‘strangely warmed’. One thing was sure; more was ‘said’ by what I saw than by what I heard. That was my first experience of this kind of meeting and its simplicity truly made a difference to me.

As our world becomes more technologically advanced and we are ‘wowed’ at every turn by new and eye-popping innovations, there will always be subtle pressure upon the churches to borrow from worldly sources to make the gospel message more impressive and less offensive. The same pressure will demand to make the Christian life more palatable to them to the unbeliever in order to attract them to it. But what will speak more powerfully to the all around us will be ‘a changed life’ as the result of the simplicity that is in the gospel of Christ. This is what will always need to be protected. It will be demonstrated by a genuine relationship with the Lord Jesus, adorned not by ecclesiastical traditions, but by a transparent life declared in the simplicity of worship and the plain declaration of God’s Word and His great love for the entire world.

Amillennialism – An Overview

Ever since the publication of Hank Hanegraaff’s book, Apocalypse Code, the evangelical world has been reminded once again of the great divide that exists between those who hold to an amillennial view of Scripture and those who do not. In his book, Hanegraff the so-called “Bible answer man” hurls a blistering diatribe toward a number of premillennialists including Tim LaHaye, author of the highly popular “Left Behind” book series. He charges him with blasphemy because he differs with him and other notable dispensationalists regarding the course of future events. Hanegraaff, a preterist believes that most of the events of the Book of Revelation were fulfilled in AD 70 when the Roman commander Titus conquered Jerusalem, destroying its temple. LaHaye on the other hand, is a futurist who takes the position that most of the events of the Book of Revelation are yet to be fulfilled. Perhaps the only thing that Hanegraaff’s book did accomplish was to accentuate the difference between the amillennial and premillennial viewpoints – a difference so wide that one Christian would have the audacity to claim that another brother is guilty of blasphemy.

WHAT IS AMILLENNIALISM AND WHAT DOES IT TEACH?

Despite the fact that it has been around for centuries, amillennialism continues to grow in certain theological circles. Without question, it is the predominant end time view of most of Christendom – some of whom are evangelical and most of whom are not. As the name implies, amillennialists purport that there is no biblical substantiation for a future, literal thousand year reign of Christ on earth, despite the fact that Rev. 20 makes reference to it six different times and that both OT and NT allude to this great event. Instead, they claim that this period is currently being fulfilled symbolically and that much of the Scriptures should be interpreted as such. They hold that Christ’s kingdom is in heaven where He is reigning now and that when He comes again it will not be to usher in a literal kingdom, but instead to bring about an end to world history, precipitating a general judgment of believers and non-believers alike. According to this view, God has permanently cast away His ancient people Israel because they rejected their Messiah, the Lord Jesus. Therefore, the promises made to them have a fulfillment in the Church, which has now replaced Israel. For this reason, this view has come to be known as “replacement theology” or “supercessionism” since the Church from their standpoint has superseded Israel and has become an historic continuation of it, inheriting many of its promises. Consequently, they hold that these promises to Israel in the past have no bearing upon the nation today, who are nothing more than an ethnic group among the nations of the world. In short, amillennialists would say that Israel no longer has a place in God’s divine plan and program.

HOW DOES PREMILLENNIALISM DIFFER FROM AMILLENNIALISM?

In contrast, premillennialists would argue that the Bible clearly presents a literal, future thousand year reign of Christ on earth in accordance with prophetic Scripture. It sees in the OT promises made to Israel, especially in the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants the basis for making such a claim. Premillennialism teaches that when Christ returns again, it will be in two stages; the first stage when He comes for His Church just prior to a seven year period of tribulation on earth (1 Thess. 4:13-17) and then again when He returns in glory with His Church just before His millennial reign as the name implies. Premillennialists reject the idea that the Church has replaced Israel, but rather see a distinction between the two and staunchly maintain that God has a separate plan and program for each. The basis for their convictions they claim are due to a literal interpretation of Scripture advocating that the Bible should always be interpreted in this way unless the context and common sense dictate otherwise. Herein lays the fundamental reason for the difference between these two main theological positions— whether or not the Bible should be interpreted literally or symbolically.

HOW AND WHEN DID AMILLENNIALISM START?

Amillennialism first emerged approximately between the second and third centuries AD. Origen was apparently the first prominent Christian who introduced the concept of allegorization or the figurative interpretation of Scripture. This concept was further promulgated by his protégé, Dionysius of Alexandria. However, the main person credited with developing this school of thought was Augustine of Hippo.Up to that point, premillennial thinking was the overriding conviction of the early Church. Certainly it had been with the disciples who had asked the Lord the question just prior to His ascension “Is this the time that you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Further persecution under the Roman Empire only solidified the conviction of the early Christians that there was a bright and glorious kingdom yet to come when Christ would personally return to earth to establish His worldwide kingdom in fulfillment of prophetic Scripture, thus alleviating the severe persecution experienced under the Roman Empire. But with the so-called “conversion” to the Christian faith of the Roman Emperor Constantine who united the “church” with the world that persecution was immediately lifted, creating a false impression in the minds of many that Christ’s kingdom in some way had arrived, though He was not personally present, but considered to be reigning in heaven. This event, coupled with the underlying shift to the allegorical approach to Bible interpretation further contributed to the development and acceptance of amillennial thinking. Though evidence exists that premillennialism had always remained the firm conviction of many Bible-believing Christians, its prominence waned in the subsequent centuries from the medieval period through the Reformation, as amillennialism increased and become the dominant view of Christendom.

AMILLENNIALISM IN THE LIGHT OF THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT

As mentioned previously, amillennialism builds its case upon the figurative interpretation of Scripture. Rather than viewing the OT promises made to Israel as literal, amillennialists see them as symbolic and applicable to the Church. It cannot be overstated just how important the Abrahamic covenant is in understanding God’s ultimate plans and purposes in the world and how it invalidates the amillennial viewpoint. It is foundational to many of the other covenants of Scripture and to the unfolding of biblical revelation. When God called Abram from the Ur of the Chaldees as recorded in Gen. 12:1-3, He promised him seven different things: 1) that He would make him a great nation, 2) that He would bless him, 3) that He would make His name great, 4) that Abram would be a blessing to others, 5) that He would bless those who would bless Abram, 6) that He would curse him who cursed Abram, and 7) that all the families of the earth through Abram would be blessed. At first, this covenant basic in its details. But what God meant and how this would be accomplished is further explained and expanded upon in subsequent chapters. In time, God did indeed make of Abram a great nation and He did literally bless him, both spiritually and materially and He did literally make His name great, and made him a blessing to others and literally blessed those who blessed him and cursed him who cursed Abram. All these things God did literally. Consequently is not unreasonable to assume that they in time would be fulfilled literally. In Gen. 13:14-18, God specifically promised a land for Abram’s descendents forever. In Gen. 15 in answer to Abram’s shrinking faith, God again promised a land to Abram (v. 7) and confirmed it unilaterally (vv. 8-17), thus making it unconditional and according to grace and not Abram’s own performance. Then in vv. 18-21, God further outlines the dimensions of the land and how it would go to his descendants forever. Finally in Gen. 17, this covenant is referred to as an everlasting covenant (v. 7, 19) and the land as an everlasting possession (v. 8), validating that these would always remain in effect come what may, until fulfilled. God stated five times “I will” when He first gave this promise and afterwards confirmed it with an oath (Gen. 22:16). God confirmed that it would come through Isaac and not Ishmael (Gen. 17:19-21; Gen. 26:3-5) and eventually through Jacob (Gen. 28:13-14) and not Esau, further substantiating that the literal, everlasting promises made to Abraham ultimately flow down to Israel. Years later in Egypt, God remembered the covenant that He had made to them (Ex. 2:24), thus validating that these everlasting promises definitely applied to Israel. Knowing their future and eventual failure to maintain a faithful witness through the centuries, God further stated in Deut. 30:3 that He would have compassion on them and eventually bring them back to the land—a land whose dimensions given in Gen. 15, but has never been fully occupied even in the days of King Solomon. Furthermore, when God made a covenant with King David (2 Sam. 7), He promised him a place for Israel where they would be planted “to move no more” (v. 10), verifying that Israel had never yet entered into the reality of this covenant even in the days of King David. In addition, God promised to David unconditionally, a royal dynasty and a throne that would last forever. David understood it to be a literal “forever” promise (vv. 18-29), for which he gave thanks to God and which Scripture substantiates would be assumed by the Lord Jesus, both prophetically (Isa. 9:6-7) and historically (Luke 1:31-33) which still awaits a future fulfillment.

HOW DOES AMILLENNIALISM SQUARE WITH SCRIPTURE?

In a word, it doesn’t. Because of its symbolic approach to interpreting Scripture, amillennialists fail to see the promises that God made to Abraham and David as literal and unconditional. Instead they predicate the keeping of these covenants upon Israel’s faithfulness rather than upon God’s own inviolable will and character. They disregard the weight of the word “forever” as stated many times by God but erroneously conclude that these promises were temporary to the nation and ultimately transferred to the Church. They falsely conclude that God has permanently cast away Israel even though Rom. 11:1 clearly affirms to the contrary when the Apostle Paul, himself a Jew loudly proclaims with divine authority: “I say then, hath God cast away His people? God forbid!”.

Amillennialism also fails to see the distinction between the Church and Israel as implied and directly indicated in both the OT and NT. The Apostle Paul’s reference to “the Jew, the Gentile and the Church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32) is prima facie evidence of this truth. The fact that the Church is referred to as a “new man” (Eph. 2:15) and not as some erroneously conclude, the “Israel of God” further substantiates a distinction as does the description of the city four square in Rev. 21 whose gates are named after the tribes of Israel and foundations after the twelve apostles–a powerful proof that God makes a distinction between the two and will throughout eternity! Consequently, amillennialism leads to inconsistency in the understanding and the application of the Word of God and forfeits a deep appreciation of how God will yet restore the wayward nation through His own wisdom and power (Rom. 11:33). It can lend itself to an anti-Semitic attitude among those who do feel that Israel has deserved rejection by God.

CONCLUSION

There are many more important aspects of Amillennialism teaching that could be considered. But suffice it to say, God indeed has a plan and a program for the nation of Israel which He will bring about in the course of time, though it will involve a time of great sorrow and tribulation (Jer. 30:7). He also has a separate plan and program for the Church as He calls many people out of the world (Acts15:13). Understanding God’s work in the world today toward Israel and through the Church underscores again the significance of the words of 2 Tim. 2:15: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

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The Great Divide: Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism

For the typical believer and especially those younger in the faith, the terms Covenant theology and Dispensationalism can be very confusing. Even older saints find it difficult to get a handle on these two main approaches to biblical interpretation. Combined with other theological terms such as premillennialism, amillennialism, preterism, Christian reconstructionism and progressive dispensationalism, the average believer in any congregation can be easily intimidated by the polysyllabic terminology. However, the serious student of the Word will want to investigate these concepts in the light of Scripture in order to obtain a clearer understanding of the differences between them. Because of the continuing interest in Covenant theology, it is important to understand what it is and how it contrasts with the dispensationalism.

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